Basking under the bright glow of the full moon, hundreds of people gathered last month at Orlando’s Guang Ming Temple to celebrate the traditional Asian holiday of the Moon Festival, also called Mid-Autumn Festival. Amidst a crackling fire in the courtyard, children and adults alike enjoyed warm tea, munched on snacks, shared stories – and of course, savored the different flavors of moon cakes: lotus seed paste, mashed mung bean, red bean, walnut, dates, green tea powder and often an egg yolk or two inside which also represent the moon!
Traditionally, the Moon Festival was a time for families and friends to gather – much like the American holiday Thanksgiving – and celebrate the fall harvest and being able to spend time with each other. To spice up the festivities, Chinese folklore even has intricate stories about a budding romance that couldn’t be, ending up with the beautiful heroine becoming a moon goddess!
Contrary to popular misconceptions though, Buddhism is not about worshipping Moon Goddesses or the various deities of Chinese folk religions. Instead, Buddhism is about finding wisdom in understanding our true nature, and using this insight in living a happy, fulfilling life. Gazing at the full moon above, with a cup of tea in our hands, we are completely awake as we slowly savor the aroma, tasting the sweetness, feeling the drink warm in our mouth and throat, letting the entire body relax. With a smile, our mind is one with our body, mindfulness is then held perfectly!
Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present. It is keeping one’s consciousness alive to the present reality. To begin anew and to look deeply and honestly at ourselves, it frees us of forgetfulness and enables us to live, to be here and now and enjoy the present moment. The past is past and the future isn’t even here yet. Only in the awareness of the present, can our mind feel the pleasant warmth of the tea and only at the present moment can our mind appreciate the beauty of the nature.
“Breathing in I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out I know that I am breathing out.” We need not control our breath. We feel the breath as it actually is. It may be long or short, deep or shallow. Our breathing is a stable ground that we take refuge in at our meditation. No matter what perceptions, emotions, or distractions, our breathing is always with us like a faithful friend. While meditating, we are easily carried away or sunken in a deep emotion, or scattered in worries and projects. It is imperative we return to our breathing awareness to collect and anchor our mind. Every breath we take, we feel how light and natural, how calm and peaceful our breathing functions. We bring the energy of mindfulness into each moment of our life and experience joy in life!
Venerable Miau Hwa, visiting from Taiwan and formerly the director at Fo Guang Shan in Miami, had spent a full year practicing meditation at FGS Buddha’s Light headquarters in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. She shared her experience and expertise, teaching meditation posture and techniques. Particularly popular were the stretching exercises, which directed full attention to focus on one move at a time while consciously breathing to be back in contact with our inner self. The exercises nourished, healed and protected everyone’s body and mind.
Venerable Miau Hwa, along with Guang Ming Temple’s Venerable Chueh Yen also talked on how to realize and live in the present. Mindfulness should be practiced every day and every hour – whether walking, sitting, working, even doing such mundane tasks such as washing the dishes, we should do so with appreciation and without regrets. Even when looking at garbage, we don’t need to suppress repulsive thoughts, but rather recognize them and then realize their illusory nature – imagine the beauty of a flower that grows from the trash’s compost. The path of transformation can be hidden, but wherever there is suffering, we can cultivate understanding and compassion. To carry out this practice can be difficult at first, but an excellent start for beginners is sitting meditation for five minutes at the beginning and end of each day. Participants understand that every day, when we wake up with a gift of 24 brand new hours to live, that we have the capacity to use this gift to bring peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others. And indeed, after the night of roasting snacks on the bonfire and enjoying tea and moon cakes under the auspicious full moon, everyone could feel the warmth of a calm mind and the joy arising from within.
Buddhist philosophy on mindfulness, which itself is only one component of the religion, is much more profound that can be written about in this article. Please visit Guang Ming Temple – on 6555 Hoffner Road just east of Semoran Boulevard – for more information. Guang Ming Temple is the largest Asian-style temple building in Florida. It is part of a worldwide organization, Buddha’s Light International Association, which began in Taiwan but since has spread to hundreds of locations in over 60 countries. Master Hsing Yun, the founder of Fo Guang Shan Buddha’s Light, calls for the application of Buddhism into daily life – that is, Humanistic Buddhism. It is through this principle that Guang Ming Temple offers classes and fun activities for the general public, ranging from adult Yoga classes to children’s Wushu classes, to having a teahouse with scrumptious vegetarian treats inside the complex. There are also English Buddhism classes and discussion groups. Check out schedules at www.orlandobuddhism.org or call the temple at 407 281 8482. Twenty minutes of self sitting meditation is held every Sunday morning at 10:00am, and also an hour of meditation on the 4th Wednesday of each month at 7:30pm.